The answer, of course, is one of context. Both in terms of our beliefs and our behavior, secrecy may be good in some situations, but not in others. We should not hide what should not be kept secret and we should not expose what should be kept secret. Consider some of the ramifications of these principles.
We should not hide what should not be kept secret.
It is certainly wrong to keep things secret that should be out in the open. The principle can apply in various ways regarding both our beliefs and behavior. The New Testament talks about a number of individuals who kept their faith secret – like Nicodemus who visited Jesus under the cover of darkness (John 3:1–21) and Joseph of Arimathea who secretly met with Pilate to request Jesus’ burial because of his fear of the Jewish religious leaders (John 19:38). There may certainly be a time for care in dangerous situations, but John, who relates these stories, tells us Jesus reminded Nicodemus that keeping our beliefs secret lessens our ability to be a witness to God’s transforming power: “Whosoever lives by truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly what has been done through God” (John 3:21).
But the main danger of wrongful secrecy, of course, is when we keep problems or sins secret in our lives that must be brought to light if we are to do away with them. In Ephesians 5:12 the apostle Paul tells us: “It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” We are called to a life without this kind of secrecy. As Paul states elsewhere, “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways” (2 Corinthians 4:2). Naturally, nothing is hidden from God (Jeremiah 23:24), and Paul reminds us that this applies to anything we attempt to keep secret: “… God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:16).
But this fact does not just apply to sexual immorality or sinfulness. For example, although we may not think of it this way, the principle applies to gossip. The Book of Psalms tells us specifically: “Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence…” (Psalm 101:5). In other areas, we should not “hide” the good that others do in the sense of not giving credit where it is due, nor should we hide wrongdoing we are aware of that needs the involvement of society (1 Peter 2:14).
To summarize this side of secrecy, we can say that in terms of belief, in most circumstances we should not keep our faith a secret; in terms of behavior, we should not keep wrongdoing that needs to be corrected a secret – or the right doing of others who should be commended, either.
We should not expose what should be kept secret.
On the other hand, the opposite side of secrecy must be applied in many situations. In terms of belief, there are times and circumstances when it may be better to hold back details of our knowledge of the truth. For example, proclaiming to strangers that they are “sinning” is not an activity to which we are called. That is really the opposite of the attitude the apostle Peter showed we should have when he wrote: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
As for our own behavior, we all need to learn to keep secret good works that might otherwise be done only for appearances. The teaching of Jesus was clear on this matter: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them … so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4). Jesus also applied the same principle to prayer: “… when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). This does not mean, of course, that we keep it a secret that we pray, only that we keep our personal prayer private so that, again, it is not done for the wrong reasons.
Finally, there are times when the apparent faults and failings of others should not be openly discussed. The principle that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 and see Matthew 18:15-17) sometimes has an interpersonal application regarding other people’s mistakes or perceived sins. We need only look at the example of Joseph who, when he did not yet realize that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, was still careful not to shame her: “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19).
So there certainly are two very different sides to the matter of secrecy – and the Christian is called to live according to that understanding.